MANILA, APRIL 7, 2008 (STAR) CRAZY QUILT By Tanya T. Lara - Filipino talent finally comes home and settles right in the middle of our favorite lifestyle complex. The new, stunningly beautiful mall whose design and concept has never before been seen in the country houses the Filipino soul, which finds expression in the creativity of our local fashion and furniture designers and chefs.

Greenbelt 5 started as a concept in 2003, born out of the Ayala Malls Group’s talks with their customers. It’s the answer to numerous requests by customers to add more retail outlets to the complex — but not just ordinary retail outlets. Greenbelt 5 pays tribute to local talent in a grand way and brings to the local market the best in fashion, furniture design and culinary arts, and at the same time popular and new brands from abroad.

Greenbelt 5 is an idea whose time has come. Finally, we have a place to appreciate what the world has long been privy to — and to actually buy what stores abroad have been for the past many years displaying proudly in their showrooms.

You could say that this world-class mall is a product of love and dedication, of pursuing and convincing our artists that the local market is ready for them.

The newly launched first phase of Greenbelt 5 focuses on local designers. The second phase, which will open later this year, will complete the fashion offerings to the upscale market. The main feature of the new mall is the Filipino Zone with two floors devoted to it.

Myrna Fernandez, Ayala Malls Group assistant vice president, says, “We wanted to pay tribute to the Filipino talent. We’re giving them the venue to showcase their ingenuity and artistry, and it makes sense for us to locate them in Greenbelt 5 particularly because it’s right beside the Ayala Museum, which is a project of the chairman emeritus of Ayala, Mr. Jaime Zobel de Ayala.”

By the time it is completed, Greenbelt 5 will have four floors, 20 percent of which will be restaurants and 80 percent retail stores. The fourth floor will house a Fitness First Platinum gym with its exclusive “platinum” facilities such as a lap pool and Jacuzzis.

The ground floor will have local fashion brands that have gone global side by side with foreign names: Tina Maristela-Ocampo’s Celestina, Raffy Totengco’s Rafe New York, alongside Marc by Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Banana Republic, Kiehl’s, Furla, Laurel and Paul Smith, among many others. “We’ve put our local brands beside the best foreign brands because we feel they are at par.” There will also be the “staple brands” such as Zara, Mango and Liz Claiborne.

Rowena Tomeldan, vice president and deputy group head of Ayala Malls Group, explains that when Ayala Land launched Greenbelt 4 — the luxury mall that’s home to Louis Vuitton, Salavatore Ferragamo, Prada, Gucci and Tod’s — people were really happy with the brands and expressed their desire for more. “Every time we would talk with our customers, they would say, ’Add more shopping,“ but they were very selective and specific about the brands they wanted, so Greenbelt 5 addresses that need to complete the retail component. We found out that not all shoppers find their brands under one roof, that they have to transfer from one mall to the other, so we are actually creating a shopping area for the fashion forward with Greenbelt.”

And what a world it is! Greenbelt 2 and 3 with its numerous restaurants and coffee shops, and stores like Firma, Jo, Kate Spade and Celio. Just across the park is Greenbelt 4 with its luxury brands, and now, Greenbelt 5 with its spacious hallways and walking paths.

“We asked our customers, what else are you looking for that’s not in Manila? They said, ‘How come you don’t feature Filipino products that are sold in Europe or the US?’” says Rowena.

The Filipino Zone comprises two floors. For the first time, many of these fashion designers are opening their ateliers to a larger market in a convenient venue. Names such as Kate Torralba, Vic Barba, Lila Almario, Randy Ortiz, Jojie Lloren, Amina Aranaz, Ivarluski Aseron, Joey Samson, Jun Escario, Lulu Tan Gan, Dennis Lustico, Ana Rocha, Butch Carungay, Patrice Diaz, Arnel Papa, Michi Calica, Cesar Gaupo, Victoria Marin, Choc, Religioso, AC 632, Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre. And then there’s Adora, the lifestyle store that takes “attention to detail” to a whole new level, from the plush and textured wing chairs and ottomans scattered all around the three floors to the mirrors in the bathrooms and the chandeliers. It’s truly a beautiful store that’s fresh and elegant.

“We got expert opinion on who to get,” says Ayala Malls Group assistant vice president Myrna Fernandez. “We set the guidelines on the level of Filipino artists and designers that we wanted and we consulted the Fashion Designer Council of the Philippines; it made sense to approach them first because they’re an organized group.”

Also part of phase 2 is an area for the fashion forward, the active lifestyle, children and families, specialty shops for the home, and the gym on the fourth floor.

Budji Layug, inarguably one of the best furniture designers in the Philippines, is bringing his B Home store to Greenbelt 5. The store carries designs by Movement 8 members such as world-renowned designers Kenneth Cobonpue and Ann Pamintuan. There will also be Borders, Domicillo and Designs Ligna.

I remember a particular show, the first year CITEM head, the late Eli Pinto, launched Movement 8 and everybody was just blown away by Milo Naval’s Zen-inspired sofas and tables, the award-winning wire wall décor of Ann, and Kenneth’s twig sofas.

Seeing all their designs in export shows and being awed by the creativity and astounding detail they put into their products, I thought, “How come they’re not available in the Philippines?” This sentiment, of course, was echoed by fans of Filipino furniture design. And now, Greenbelt 5 has them.

Because the concept of putting a mostly-Filipino mall is a new one — even the restaurants are Filipino-owned and managed — it took a bit of pursuing from the Ayala Malls Group for these artists to locate there.

“We flew to Cebu to talk with furniture and accessories exporters, we read fashion magazines and lifestyle pages to update ourselves on who’s hot,” says AC Legarda Ocampo, department manager of Greenbelt.

Rowena admits that with the furniture exporters, it took a little more convincing, “Most of them, their first reaction was to say no because they were already happy with their export business and they didn’t want to manage a retail store. But after telling them about the concept, that it was a tribute to the Filipino artist, and we were not doing this for business alone, we were able to get a good number of exporters and artists.”

First time to locate in a mall are also some entrepreneurs whose cooking already have a cult following. There’s Pia y Damaso by Bambi Sy-Gobio, who used to co-own the restaurant Fidel in Malate, and Baba Ibazeta, famous for her homemade banana cream pie, who opened Classic Confections. Then there are the established restaurant groups such as Gaita Fores’ CIBO , LJC Group’s Fely J and Chateau 1771. New concepts to check out are John & Yoko, Travel Cafe, Zuni, Myron’s Place, Solihiya, and Fish Out of Water.

It’s interesting how, in many ways, the success of Greenbelts 2 and 3 has changed the way people dine out and the way malls are built today. It was a gamble on Ayala Malls’ part back then to create venues for al fresco dining given the country’s temperate weather and the Pinoy’s love for being inside air-conditioned places to escape the heat. “With Greenbelt 3, we embraced the park. The anchor is not a traditional anchor, but a three-hectare park. Now they’re not just able to eat in good restos but are also able to walk along the park with their families,” Rowena says.

Greenbelt 5 — as with many Ayala Malls ventures — is innovative in many ways. “We make sure there’s always something new with what we develop,” she adds. “We are not content to build the same and this is bound to add value to the whole area.”

The structure of Greenbelt 5 is an elegant testament to their faith in the Filipino talent and also, in a sense, to an improving economy. It took faith, too, on the part of first-time retailers and restaurateurs — faith that the public will patronize them.

In the end, it’s not only the Filipino soul that Greenbelt 5 is showcasing, it’s also the Filipino heart — that we will appreciate local talents and help them grow.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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